5 Balance Ball Exercises to Improve Stability

Get strong and stay steady with these balance ball exercises. They'll help you improve your stability and avoid exercise-related injuries.

Balance is important for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is keeping you from tipping right over. It’s also hugely beneficial for stability. And that in itself comes with a bunch of benefits. Stability comes down to your “body’s ability to control a joint’s position or movement through a given range of motion,” explains Prentiss Rhodes, a certified personal trainer and National Academy of Sports Medicine master instructor based in Orange County, California.

Stability work is crucial because we’re constantly in an environment that requires balance, like when we walk with uneven weight in our arms or trek over uneven surfaces, says Noam Tamir, a certified strength and conditioning specialist and founder and CEO of TS Fitness in New York City. “Getting onto a bike requires us to balance on two wheels, and running we are on one foot at a time,” he says. “Being able to handle different types of terrain, such as hills or uneven surfaces, requires even more stability. When we speed up our pace and switch direction, more stability is required to control our bodies.”

Focusing on stability in your workouts can help you avoid injury, Rhodes says. It can also help you with athletic performance, whether you’re running or cycling. “Stability demands that your body has enough endurance and motor control to keep your joints in the optimal position,” he says. “You’re only as strong as you are stable. You are only as powerful as you are strong.”

In other words, to gain everything from strength to power, you need stability.

(Related: Muscle Imbalance: Signs and How to Fix It)

The best methods for improving stability

To build stability, you want to make sure you can move in a full range of motion, says Rhodes. Incorporating recovery methods like foam rolling and stretching can set you up for success when it comes to stability training, as they can help increase your flexibility, which then helps you reach your full range of motion. As for stability training, certain types of exercise are the most effective.

Single-leg movements

Exercises like deadlifts and lunges will fire up the stabilizing muscles of the legs and require core engagement, too, Tamir says. All of that will help you become more stable.

Heavy and slow, or light and fast

Moving slowly with a heavy weight or moving quickly with a lighter weight can also enhance stability.

3D exercise

Exercising on all planes of motion can aid stability. So do exercises that have you moving side to side, front to back, and in rotation.

Eyes closed

Closing your eyes while exercising also can influence stability and help you improve it, Tamir adds.

Body-weight exercises

Doing specific body-weight exercises—bridges, single-leg squats, dead lifts, push-up variations, and plank variations—can all target stabilization of the upper and lower body and the core, Rhodes says.

Balance ball exercises

One tool that can come in handy is a balance ball. The balance ball adds an unsteady surface to exercises, really turning up the stability challenge. Bonus: It’s inexpensive and easy to store, so you get a great workout without dropping a ton of money on clunky gym equipment.

Rhodes suggests progressively working your way up to balance ball exercises. First, make sure you can handle the exercise on a steady surface. Next, capably complete the exercise with a staggered stance and then on a single side of your body.

Only when you can do all of that are you ready to introduce the balance ball. This is the best way to progress without jumping so far ahead that you injure yourself.

(Related: Types of Stretching Experts Recommend—and Avoid)

How does a balance ball help with stability?

“The stability ball gives your brain more information to work with,” Rhodes says. “Not only do your stabilizing muscles have to do their job and maintain the joint position, but they also now must do this on a base that is constantly changing.” Tamir agrees, saying a balance ball can create a proprioceptive environment. That just means you can better notice where your body is in space. “The ball moves because of its circular shape. When completing exercises, you need to prevent the ball from moving, forcing you to engage muscles to keep yourself stable,” Tamir explains.

Five balance ball exercises to improve stability

Try these five moves from Tamir, which will help you up your stability game. They all use a balance ball to really challenge your muscles.

Plank

Doing this exercise, you’re bound to feel a burn in your abs and arms. In fact, practically your whole body will feel the effects of this move. “This is a fundamental exercise that helps with posture and core strength,” Tamir says. “By introducing a ball into this isometric exercise, it makes the front of your body unstable, requiring more recruitment of your muscles throughout the body.”

How to do it

Kneel in front of a balance ball. Place your forearms on the ball.

Walk your feet back to a plank position. Your body will form a straight diagonal line from your shoulders to your heels.

Use your forearms to press the ball away from you. Breathe deeply for 30 to 60 seconds, holding as steady as possible.

Come out of the plank by placing your knees on the floor.

(Related: 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of A Plank)

Hip bridge

“The posterior [back] part of your body often doesn’t get as much attention or use as the anterior [front] part of the body, causing an imbalance that can lead to injury or poor performance,” Tamir says. This move will work that the back of your body.

“In this move, the ball wants to move away from you when bridging up,” he says. “This forces you to use more of your stabilizing muscles in your legs and core.”

How to do it

Start lying on your back on the floor, arms down by your sides and hands flat on the floor.

Place your calves on top of the balance ball, knees bent 90 degrees and aligned with your hips.

Drive your legs into the ball and squeeze your butt to lift your hips up. Pause, then lower back down with control.

Do eight to 10 reps.

(Related: Hip Flexor Stretches That Relieve Pain and Tightness)

Hamstring curl

This is another great exercise for the back of the body, focusing on the hamstrings, those muscles at backs of the thighs. “Because the ball is traveling farther from the body, it’s going to require more stability,” Tamir says.

How to do it

Start lying on your back on the floor, arms by your sides and hands flat on the floor.

Place your heels on top of the balance ball. Bend your knees at a 90-degree angle and align your knees over your hips.

Drive your legs into the ball and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up. This is your starting position.

Straighten out your legs out, keeping your hips lifted and knees soft.

Pull your legs back in until your knees are once again bent at 90 degrees.

Do eight to 10 reps.

(Related: 4 Hamstring Exercises You Can Do at Home)

Push-Up

“A push-up off a ball requires a lot of stability from the core and upper body,” Tamir says. Add in the ball, and your stabilizing muscles have to work extra hard. Make sure you can do a full push-up on the ground before performing with the ball.

How to do it

Place your hands on the balance ball and walk your feet back to a plank position. Your body should form a straight diagonal line from your shoulders to your heels.

Moving slowly and with control, lower your chest toward the ball. Go as low as you can without breaking plank form. Press back up.

Do eight to 10 reps.

(Related: Tips for Improving Push-Ups)

Bulgarian Split Squat

This is an advanced exercise, so building up to it is important, Tamir says. A single-leg move, it targets the muscles of the lower body and core. Plus, it strengthens the foot, which you also need for good stability.

How to do it

Start standing in front of the balance ball, facing away from it. Place the top of your right foot (the laces part of your right shoe) on the ball behind you.

Lower into a lunge position, with left knee bending about 90 degrees and your right knee lowering toward the floor. Make sure your left knee doesn’t track over your toe line.

Drive through your left foot to stand back up.

Do eight to 10 reps and then switch sides.

(Related: Perfect Your Form: How To Do Squats Like A Pro)

Tips to maximize balance ball stability training

The size of a balance ball can determine how hard an exercise is. “The bigger the ball, the easier it is to stabilize,” Tamir says. That’s because larger balls have more contact with the ground. So if you’re new to stability training, opt for a bigger ball. If you’re more advance, go smaller.

Rhodes stresses the importance of maintaining a good exercise technique. “Once your form starts to degrade, stop the exercise,” he says. “A stability ball is a great tool, but make sure that your technique on a stable surface is solid before adding the greater challenge.”

Next, check out Jillian Michaels 7-Minute Circuit Workout for Total Body Fitness

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Originally Published on The Healthy